In a moment of time, Saul was converted.
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The story of Paul’s conversion from a fire-breathing hater of Christians to becoming a Christian himself is found in Acts 9:1-19.
He had what could be described as a pretty severe encounter with the Lord.
We first meet him as Saul in chapter 7 of the Acts at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Then from chapter 13 to the end of the book of Acts, it is all Paul’s story which occupies more than half the book.
Paul’s letters to the various churches also comprise half the entire New Testament. There are 27 books in the NT and 13 of them were written by the apostle Paul.
Paul is a fascinating individual. Of all the characters in the Bible, his story stands second only to the story of Jesus.
Much of our theology—that is, our understanding of what the life of Jesus means—is drawn from Paul’s writings.
Let’s look at what we can learn about being converted from Paul—both from his life and his teachings.
‘Converted’ is an interesting word which is mainly used in the idea of religion—being converted from one faith to another.
It has the basic idea of changing from one thing to another.
When I was in Italy, I converted my dollars into Lira, and when I was in France, I changed them into francs.
Gracie has converted a bedroom of our house into her craft room.
In religious terms, we know it means to convert from one faith to another.
Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity.
We can learn from Paul how someone is converted from whatever it is that they believe to Christianity.
What was in Paul’s character that made him open to becoming a Christian?
He was furious with Christians for causing many to leave his beloved Jewish heritage. But, he had something going for him that Jesus said would satisfy him.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt 5:8
Now, we may question the idea of a pure heart that wants to see people killed, but we must remember that those were the laws of the Jews at that time.
That word ‘pure’ carries with it the idea of sincere.
And Paul was sincerely zealous for God.
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
This is another thing that Jesus spoke about in His sermon on the mount.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
I think that we too often look at those of another religion and think that they are completely lost.
We may not do that so much with other Christian denominations, but we certainly do it with faiths like the Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus.
However, if you will carefully consider what Jesus said, you will see that there are no qualifications other than purity of heart and a desire for righteousness.
With those two qualities—sincere heart hungering for righteousness—God will meet anyone right where they are.
We see that with Thomas and his skepticism about Jesus resurrection. Jesus met Thomas with what he needed in order to believe.
Thomas needed physical proof and Jesus gave him just that.
Thomas was converted from an unbeliever to a believer.
In both Thomas and Paul, we see a heart condition that was conducive to the working of the Holy Spirit.
Is a certain heart condition an absolutely necessary thing to have, though, for the Holy Spirit to work?
If we say yes, then we are limiting the power of God to the condition of the human being; and we know that is a lie.
So, let’s reconsider what I have said about Paul.
Let’s look at him from our vantage point of being human.
When we do that, we see that Saul, before he became Paul, was not a nice man.
In fact, we read that he was a murderer before he was converted.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest”
He was threatening. He was intimidating. He was on a mission to destroy the new faith which was growing in Israel.
Later on, when Paul was writing his letters, he gained a different understanding of what he had been doing.
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, …
Paul believed he was set apart by God before he was born.
I would bet that many of you could also say the same thing as you think back over your life with the Lord.
I know I can. I can trace the beginnings of my spiritual awareness to when I was 6 years old.
And because of my understanding of salvation, I can also say that I was set apart by God before I was born.
But that is not the most important part of this passage.
The main point that I want us to see is that God had a plan.
He had a plan that was waiting for the right time in Paul’s life.
And when that time came, God did not send a preacher, teacher or evangelist.
He simply revealed Himself to Saul while he was on the way to Damascus to collect more Christians for the Jewish jail.
God has done that with many others also.
He did it for my mother, who was a Catholic.
She was concerned about her oldest boy who was going the way of following the protestant way of thinking.
One day in the kitchen while praying for me to be restored, the Lord revealed Himself to her in a way that dropped her to her knees.
She never again doubted what I was doing as a preacher in serving the Lord.
God has a way of revealing Himself to anyone in any way that they may need in order to see His truth.
We call their experience “being converted.”
Conversion can also happen through another means, as we see in the case of Timothy.
“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2Ti 3:15
Paul is telling Timothy here that the scriptures are able to make us wise concerning salvation.
The scriptures are what God used in my life.
A year or so after I got out of the Navy, I was still wandering around lost as a goose wondering what I was going to do with my life.
Somehow, I don’t recall how, I came across a little paperback book called Good News For Modern Man. It was a copy of the New Testament in modern language.
After work, I would stay up all night until 3 or 4 in the morning at a restaurant reading from that book.
I was fascinated with what I was learning.
I had read other books about spiritual ways, but this one captivated me.
I couldn’t put it down.
My life began to change.
Why? The answer is simple and found within the scriptures themselves.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The words from the Bible were doing their work in my life.
I was converted by the reading of the New Testament.
Others have been converted by reading from the Old Testament.
So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. … And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Act 8:30-31, 34-35
The Ethiopian was reading from the OT, but he needed someone to explain to him the meaning of what he was reading.
This brings us to the final thought about the means God uses for how we are converted. Paul writes in Romans—
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Many have made this the only way that someone can be converted or saved.
Hopefully, though, you have been able to see from this that God is not limited by any means. There is nothing He cannot use, no place that He cannot go, no resistance that He cannot overcome in order to bring someone to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
He can meet them in church, in their home, on the road, in a shooting gallery for meth and heroin addicts, in a bar, in jail or even in hell—as the psalmist wrote.
“If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”
We do not have to require our family or friends to come to church to get saved.
We do not have to force them to listen to our preaching.
We do not have to force or arrange anything, because God is greater than any plan we could ever concoct.
How does conversion happen?
I will leave you with one last verse.
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”
Pray for those who do not yet know the Lord.
Pray and leave it there.
God’s got this.
Of that you can be sure.